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The British Monopoly On The Surat Trade To The Middle East And The Indian Ship-Owning Merchants’ Struggle Against It: 1759–1800*


Between 1759 and 1800, Surat, still an important trade and financial centre, was under the ultimate rule of the East India Company. Although the EIC justified this as necessary for protecting Surat's inhabitants and, most particularly, the local merchant class, the Company failed not only to protect the Surat merchants against the depredations of Great Britain's European enemies, but also to safeguard the merchants from extortion by local EIC top officials. In fact, the latter imposed what was essentially a protection racket on trade from Surat to the Middle East. This article focuses on the Surat merchants’ long-drawn out and ultimately unsuccessful struggle against what, in the official documents, was dubbed the [British] monopoly of the trade to the “Gulphs”. The episode demonstrates two theses: the first is that the interests of the Surat merchants held little importance to the EIC or its officials, and the second is that, during the period under examination, no mutually beneficial partnership tied the British to the Surat merchants — rather, the relationship was one of naked exploitation by the former of the latter.

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This article is in memory of Thomas O. Eisemon (1944-98), gentleman, scholar, friend, and the last of my intellectual gurus, who, although a specialist in a different field, read and so intelligently criticised my earlier work on Surat.

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Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
  • ISSN: 1356-1863
  • EISSN: 1474-0591
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-royal-asiatic-society
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